Bhutan first banned in use of plastic bags in 1999 [Please take a note that, I ‘m saying “plastic bags”]. This was reinforced in 2005, and again in 2009 and we are here to witness another notification, indicating the failure of all three noble efforts. BBS on 14 January 2013 wrote an article titled “Plastic ban still in-effective”, wherein the article begins with: “The initiative to ban plastic in 1999 grabbed international headlines and garnered global attention and appreciation. But the initiative was only to be the tip of the iceberg. In the 13 years that followed, the ban had to be reintroduced in 2005 and a new regulation had to be worked out in 2012. And still today, the plastic ban, to its true sense, is yet to find a foothold in Bhutan”. The reporter somehow forgets to tag “bags” after “plastic”.
Now the latest reinforcement of the ban shall come into effect from April 1, 2019. The January 14, 2019 “Reinforcement of limited Plastic Ban Notification 1999” issued by the National Environment Commission (NEC) begins like this: “This has reference to the Notification on the Ban the Use/Sale of Plastic Carry Bags, Doma Wrappers and Homemade Ice Cream (Pepsi) Pouches issued by the then Ministry of Trade and Industry vide letter No. MTI/VIII-3/42 dated April 20, 1999..” If we are to understand from what has been made ‘reference to’ by the NEC, it clearly says what kinds of plastics are banned from use in Bhutan.
Of late, I have seen many arguing that plastic ban cannot be achieved for almost everything comes wrapped in plastic these days and they are right. Total banning of plastic has become near to impossible now and NEC knows that thus according to NEC’s notification we are banning only PLASTIC BAGS, PLASTICS USED TO WRAP DOMAS and PLASTICS USED TO WRAP HOMEMADE ICE CREAMS. I believe there is no need for any confusion here nor to think about alternatives to plastic bags and doma wrappers. As an alternative to plastic bags, we can carry our own reusable bags while shopping; a Doma chewer might as well consider carrying a bag and ‘tsu-ni’ container always. However, I accept that a clearer demarcation should be drawn on what exactly is banned, for I believe, a plastic ban on bread wrappers; dry fish packaging; homemade ezay; homemade veg juma; and others may not work for now as we do not have any sensible alternatives available to suggest.
While plastic bags stay a profit to retailers and customers through its ease in availability and ease of handling it. We have always been taught and shown that their impacts on the environment cannot be compromised. Thus, a ban is a must and to achieve it, a notification or having it in our rule books or Acts will not work. We will need proper implementation plans and proper ‘standard operating procedures’ in place: penalty amount to defaulters; providing authentic revenue receipts to defaulters; a mechanisms to record the detail of defaulters so that repeated defaulters can be levied higher penalties; specify what kinds and types of plastics a banned; proper recycling mechanisms of plastic bottles and those coming as packaging plastics are penned and followed; etc.I’m sure all these are considered and if not, I believe all these warrants proper discussion and having it ready before reinforcing the ban on plastic bags.
The plastic bags ban has to come and it has come to Bhutan two decades back and we are still struggling to implement it effectively and I will not be surprised if the latest reinforcement fails to make its mark too. My statement does not undermine the capability of the NEC or the stakeholders who will be involved in implementing the ban. My statement is purely from having used plastic bags almost always. I have already shifted to the use of reusable bags while shopping, long time back, and if every Bhutanese does that, a ban on plastic bags shall be achieved and it shall help Bhutan reduce the amount of plastic bags going to the landfills. The responsibility of making the ban effective not only ‘stays’ with the NEC or for that matter rule implementers, but it also falls on every Bhutanese to make it work and I’m sure we can this time.
Let’s do it!
Paldhen Drukpa Gyel-Lo